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Review: LondonTimes • “But this shrewd person with a robust line in self-deprecating wisecracks is also the heroine of a myth, a story full of complication and danger and rich enough in ambiguity to provide plenty of scope for polemical reinterpretation. In this exquisitely poised book, Atwood blends intimate humour with a finely tempered outrage at the terrible injustice done to the maids, phrasing both in language as potent as a curse.”
Entertainment Weekly Review • “Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin) revisits long-suffering Penelope and meandering Odysseus as an alternately tragic and hilarious example of marriage in The Penelopiad. She channels Penelope by way of Absolutely Fabulous; one can imagine her chain-smoking and swilling wine between cracks about the weakness of men and the misery they visit upon women. (Thank goodness for veils, ''a practical help for disguising red, puffy eyes.'') While the story isn't new, Atwood's approach reminds us that there are endlessly originalways to tell it.”
Key Ideas Major Theme: Story-telling & Story-listening Analytical Mode: Intertextuality Style: Cabaret, Greek Theater, & Epic Traditions
Atwood’s Foreword Basic Tenet: Authors Consciously Choose Vantage Points • "Homer's Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local — a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another... I've chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn't hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I've always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself." —from Margaret Atwood's Foreword to The Penelopiad
Was Penelope the faithful and virtuous wife as told by Homer? If Penelope told the story, would another truth be revealed? If Penelope’s maids told the story, would Odysseus be guilty of murder instead of acting within his rights as a slave owner? What are your initial thoughts? Atwood brings to question the validity of the storyteller. The teller of a story has a personal reason to include or adjust facts or opinions. The listener chooses what to believe. To what extent do you find this true? Ultimately, it’s up to the listener to choose a truth. How does this seem fittingly “post-modern”?
Multiple First-Person Narrators: New P.O.V. Basic Tenet: Authors Consciously Choose Vantage Points • Penelope—In Hades, unhappy about being misunderstood by centuries of readers, has a personal story to tell and opinions of her husband and his exploits. Tone = Acid, Sardonic, Scathing, & “determinedly irreverent” • Penelope’s Maids (“The Chorus”)(er, their ghosts)—Also in Hades, they too have their story of unfair treatment to tell, and they act out scenes from the story between narrative interludes. • Bonus: Hear from cousin Helen!
Review: LondonTimes • “Penelope’s narrative is punctuated by interjections from the hanged maids. A skipping rhyme, a bawdy ballad, a burlesque, a mini court-room drama, a parody of Aeschylus’s Eumenides, even a lecture in paleo-anthropology, these choric interludes are wittily conceived and adroitly executed, their formal ingenuity a reminder that Atwood, always the most stylish of novelists, was a poet first… Atwood’s Penelope has learnt self-sufficiency the hard way... Atwood makes her guarded, careful of her privacy, and has her speak in sardonic, no-nonsense prose. The tension between her intelligent disenchantment and the maids’ playful, painful, lascivious poetry gives this book a thrilling and persistent resonance.” cabaret
Layers of Storytelling • Atwood’s idea of a layered narrativeechoes, in itself, the original epic poem (Homer relates the tale of Odysseus, and Odysseus, in turn, relates his tale to the King Alcinous/his court).
Intertextuality • Definition: the shaping of texts' meanings by other texts • Essence: Texts are not individual, isolated, closed-off entities—but, rather, exists always in relation to others. We owe more to other texts than to their makers. • First Proponent: Julia Kristeva, 1960s, who conceptualized axes of meaning, declaring ‘every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a [3D] universe on it’: text author reader other texts
Intertextuality DOES MEAN DOES NOT MEAN Mere ‘influence’ of one writer on another Mere allusions or spoofs (though these are a sort of self-conscious facet of intertextuality) • Meaning of a text being dependent upon and shaped by other texts • Status of ‘authorship’ is problematized (author is now orchestrator, not originator) • Looking at a text as a multidimensional space Reflected in the blurring of genre lines • Readers now create authors. (Death of author, birth of reader.)
Applyingthe Concept • How did your experience with modern rap songs potentially color your reading of The Scarlet Letter? • How did your experience with romance movies potentially color your reading of Wuthering Heights and/or the love sonnets? • How have your history studies colored your readings of the cultural context of The Stranger and/or the political context of Macbeth?
Intertextuality, Continued. • Every reading is always a rewriting (by individuals and/or societies, consciously and/or unconsciously). How does this make sense when we think of cultural context? • A text’s unity lies not in its origin, but in its destination (Barthes). • “[T]exts come before us as the always-already-read; we apprehend them through the sedimented layers of previous interpretations” (Jameson)
Intertextuality • “No one today…can read a famous novel or poem; look at a famous painting, drawing or sculpture; listen to a famous piece of music; or watch a famous play or film without being conscious of the contexts in which the text had been reproduced, drawn upon, alluded to, parodied and so on. Such contexts constitute a primary frame which the reader cannot avoid drawing upon in interpreting the text.
No Text Is An Island • Intertextuality blurs the boundaries not only between texts, but between texts and the world of lived experience. • Where does a text 'begin' and 'end'? What is 'text' and what is 'context'? The mediums of television and the World Wide Web highlight this issue: both exist in a sort of “permeable flow” rather than as a series of discrete texts. Each text exists within a vast 'society of texts' in various genres and media: no text is an island entire of itself.
Readers construct authors. • Ponder: How might your personal perceptions of gender roles and fidelity color your response to ThePenelopiad? • Link to Major Theme: Story-Telling and Story-Listening (multiple vantage points, reliability, authorship questions, etc)
TONE: Articulating your gut instinct • D - Diction (specific word choice, loaded words, connotations) • I - Images • D - Details • L - Language (“overall” language) • S - Sentence Structure (sentence length, variety)
Model of Tone Proof Paragraph • Goal: Atwood creates for the maids in “The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme” a ______ tone by __________ in order to ________.” • Conclusion/ “Claim”: Coarse, accusing, indignant • Quote bank: “you scratched your itch,” “it was not fair,” “scrubbed the blood / paramours from floors,” “you watched us fall” • The “how” via DIDLS: informal/low language overall, irreverent and unsettling imagery, syntax creates whimsical poetic rhyme that’s decidedly ironic juxtaposition to the subject (including title of chapter here, as well,” syntax is accusing with “you” and “we” beginning phrases, details of blood / raised hand, etc. • The “why”: Atwood wants to knock Odyssey off his epic pedestal, undermine his stature, make us uncomfortable and make us feel guilty that we’ve believed in him for so long, feel sympathy for the maidens – and, ultimately, question the validity of storytelling. • Goal: Atwood creates for the maids in “The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme” a coarse, accusing, and indignant tone by ironically juxtaposing low diction and whimsical, lyrical syntax with weighty accusations and unsettling imagery in order to make readers question the validity of the ancient epic, its hero, and storytelling in general.”
Warm-Up: Thoughtful Theses • Consider this acronym to help you create strong theses: NHWD (Name of author + the “how” + “the why” + check to see if it’s debatable). (Think NHWH: No Homework Would Be Divine!) • Example: • Topic: Authors consciously manipulate their narrative strategies. • Thesis: “Atwood strategically manipulates narrative strategy by creating multiple first person narrative voices to emphasize the impossibility of absolute, finite truths.”(yes—debatable) • Now, you try: Create a thesis for each of these topics: • (1) The bird motif in The Penelopiad • (2) Double standards amongst genders/classes in The Penelopiad • (3) Narrative justice (retribution via storytelling)